Hockey 101: The Basics


To understand hockey, let’s start at the simplest point and then work our way out.

In the simplest manner, hockey is a game played on a sheet of ice. Scores in hockey are known as goals and at the end of the game, the team with the most goals wins.

The sheet of ice that the game is played on is known as the rink. In the National Hockey League (NHL) – the league that the Predators play in – the size of the rink is 200 feet long by 85 feet wide. The rink is surrounded by a barrier that is known as “the boards”. The boards at the long ends of the rink behind the goals are known as “the end boards”. As hockey has no “out of bounds”, these boards serve as the boundaries of the playing surface. Above the boards, there is glass and – at the end boards – netting.  The sole purpose of the glass and netting are to keep the puck from entering the stands.

A hockey game is 60 minutes long and it consists of three 20-minute periods. In between each period, there is a 17-minute intermission. If the score is tied after the 60 minutes, the game goes into a 5-minute overtime.  If neither team scores during overtime, the game goes to a shootout. In a shootout, each team gets three chances to score a goal. The team with the most goals after those three tries wins. If they are still tied, they keep trying until one team makes a goal during their turn and the other misses.

At the beginning of each hockey game, there are 6 players on the ice for each team – 5 skaters and 1 goaltender or “goalie”. The goalie is the player wearing extra padding who is standing in front of the goal. His primary purpose is to try to keep goals from being scored.

The puck is a small disk of vulcanized rubber that is 1 inch thick and 3 inches in diameter. A puck is used instead of a ball because a ball tends to bounce too much on the ice and is hard to control. Imagine having an unwieldy frozen rubber ball flying in all directions and potentially into the stands with the spectators…and you see why they decided to use a flat piece of rubber instead.

The hockey game begins with a faceoff. One skater from each team lines up inside the faceoff circle, the referee drops the puck and the two players try to gain possession of the puck with their stick.

If you look at a hockey net, there is a red bar that runs across the top. This bar is the crossbar. The bar on the two sides are called the “posts”. The official height from the ice to the crossbar is 4 feet, while the official width between the posts is 6 feet. There is another red line painted on the surface of the ice which runs parallel to the crossbar and perpindicular to the posts. This line is the goal line. The goal line sits 11 feet off of the end board, while the actual depth of the goal (from the goal line to the back of the net) is only 44 inches. This means that there is still over 7 feet of ice between the end board and the back of the goal. In ice hockey, a goal is scored if the puck enters the goal net completely, meaning that the puck has completely passed over the goal line.

The puck is projected to the net by an opposing player (a player on the opposite team as the goalie) via a shot by a skater. A shot on goal is a shot that the goalie actually has to touch to prevent the puck from going into the net.

Finally, like in any other sport, if a team commits an act that is against the rules, it is assessed a penalty. There are several different kinds of penalties, but the important part to know is what actually happens when a player commits one. When a player commits an infraction, he is sent to the penalty box for a designated amount of time (most penalties are 2 minute penalties). The penalty box is a separate, smaller bench across the ice from the team benches. While a player is in the penalty box, his team is forced to play with one less player (since the penalized player is in the penalty box). In other words, since each team has 5 skaters, if one of the players commits a penalty, his team has 4 players while the other team still has 5. Since the other team has an extra player, they are said to be on the power play. Any time a team has more players on the ice than the other team as the result of a penalty, the team with more players is on the power play. The team with fewer players is on the penalty kill. The penalty will end in one of two ways – either the time expires and the penalized player comes back on the ice or the team on the power play scores a goal. Since there are fewer players on the ice for one team, the theory is that it is easier for the team with more players to score goals, which is why the penalty is enforced in this manner.

Now that you are armed with this information, you should be able to have a general idea of what you are seeing. Don’t hesitate to ask questions of the people around you – remind them that it is your first game. Have fun at the game!


  1. Marley

    September 22, 2010 at 9:42 am

    Can you explain “icing?”

    • Patten Fuqua

      September 22, 2010 at 9:58 am

      A) The stuff on top of a cake.

      B) There are three red lines on the ice – the center line and the two goal lines. If a puck is shot towards the opposing team’s goal and crosses both the center line and the goal line without touching anyone first, the puck has been iced. If a skater from the opposing team (the team that did not shoot the puck) touches the puck first after it has been iced, play stops and there is a faceoff next to the goal of the team that shot the puck across the two lines. If the team that shot the puck touches it first, the icing call is waved off and play does not stop.

      Also, a team on the penalty kill cannot ice the puck.